Joint Research Centre - European Commission

The European Commission's in-house science service
European Commission

1990 -> 1999

Growing and energising

In this decade, the JRC further developed its work in areas such as environmental impact and nuclear energy, and focused heavily on public health, safety and security. It also moved into entirely new fields, reflecting the developments of the time: for example, at the end of the nineties, food scares such as BSE (‘mad cow disease’) and dioxin contamination led to the creation of the Directorate- General for Health and Consumer Protection, separating the issue of food safety from that of industry and the environment.

For the JRC, this meant the creation of the Institute for Health and Consumer Protection (IHCP).

Furthermore, the need to address new policy challenges involving both a socio-economic and a scientific or technological dimension, led the JRC to establish its Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS).

Sorting the pape from the plonk

At the end of the eighties, many cases of wine fraud were uncovered. These involved the sugaring and watering of wine, as well as false claims concerning authenticity. To protect consumers from such misleading practices, in 1993 the European Commission established the European Office for Wine, Alcohol and Spirit Drinks (BEVABS) at the JRC. Using magnetic resonance, scientists are able to identify where a wine is from and whether sugar has been added. Information is then entered into a central database, managed by BEVABS, which is today part of the IHCP.

The JRC’s role in food and drink expanded widely in this decade and, in 1998, the Institute for Health and Consumer Protection (IHCP) came into fruition. The IHCP performs activities in support of food and feed legislation.

Sound advice on chemical risks

In 1993, the European Chemicals Bureau (ECB) was established within the former Environment Institute, today part of the IHCP.

The ECB hosts major EU databases on chemicals and provides scientific and technical advice for the development of EU policies on dangerous chemicals. This includes significant input into the implementation of the new chemical legislation REACH, which came into force in early 2007. In particular, the ECB is managing and preparing the technical guidance documents for use by the chemicals industry and the Member State authorities. This has enabled a smooth start to the policy and the establishment of the fully operational European Agency in Helsinki, in June 2008.

Merging institutes, broadening research

In the mid-nineties, the Safety Technology Institute (STI) and the Institute for Systems Engineering and Informatics (ISEI) merged to form the Institute for Systems, Informatics and Safety (ISIS). During this process, new lines of research also opened in non-nuclear domains where the JRC’s expertise could be applied. This included monitoring and anti-fraud, analysing the safety and security of chemical installations, and assessing transport systems and infrastructures.

Later, ISIS would join with part of the Space Applications Institute to form the Institute for the Protection and Security of the Citizen (IPSC), while the Environment Institute (EI) and another part of the Space Applications Institute (SAI) amalgamated to form the Institute for Environment and Sustainability (IES).

Fighting pollution

In 1997, the European Commission set up the European Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Bureau (EIPPCB). The bureau helps to implement EU rules aimed at preventing or reducing pollution from industrial sources, and achieving integrated control of their emissions and consumption of energy, water and raw materials. It produces guidelines for EU Member State authorities to follow in setting emission limits for industrial processes.

Branching out

In a bid to discover more about climate change and its impact on our society, the project TRopical Ecosystem Environment observation by Satellite (TREES) was initiated in 1991. Its aims were to develop techniques to enable the creation of a global tropical forest inventory, to detect and monitor deforestation, and to set up a comprehensive Tropical Forest Information System. It has, among other things, provided unique insight into the ecosystems of Africa, Central and South America and Southeast Asia.

Stop the smugglers

Collecting samples for nuclear forensic analysis

Collecting samples for nuclear forensic analysis

Since the early 1990s, there have been numerous instances of illicit trafficking of many types of nuclear materials worldwide, including materials suitable for producing nuclear weapons. In ongoing efforts to assist in preventing this, the JRC has put a team of nuclear forensic experts on standby at all times to respond immediately to any seizure of nuclear material in the EU. A first analysis is then delivered to the appropriate authorities within 24 hours of a sample arriving at the Institute of Transuranium Elements (ITU). The analysis reveals the nature of the material and the associated radiological hazard. A subsequent, more detailed analysis then provides clues on the origin of the material, date and location of production and its intended use.

En guard

Analysing nuclear materials at the ITU

Analysing nuclear materials at the ITU

In support of the International Safeguards Authorities, the JRC played an important role in developing tools and methodologies to verify that nuclear material intended for electricity production could not be diverted for use in clandestine activities.

It was also responsible for setting up – and is now running – specialised laboratories for monitoring the flow of nuclear material at reprocessing plants in France and the UK.

The JRC built and operates a Performance Laboratory (PERLA) in Ispra for the research, development and testing of non-destructive analysis equipment for nuclear safeguards. This lab is also used for training of Euratom and IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) inspectors.

Joined-up thinking

In order to get the best research results and share best practices, the JRC headed a series of international networks, which focused on nuclear issues. With public concern over the safety of ageing plants, the JRC continues to provide impartial technical advice on matters such as the operational safety of reactors.

A flow of information

In 1997, the JRC started activities on flood hazard and flood damage assessment. A model was designed to simulate flood events (LISFLOOD) in order to understand more about their impact. Flood extent mapping, achieved by SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar), was evaluated for its efficiency in assessing flood damage – vital in allowing authorities to initiate an appropriate response.

Today, LISFLOOD has evolved into an earlywarning system for floods in major river basins in Europe. It is able to predict floods between three and five days in advance, contributing to damage prevention and saving lives.

Support near and PHARE

From 1991, the JRC has provided assistance to the European Commission in supporting the transition in Eastern countries – under the TACIS Programme, for New Independent States, and the PHARE Programme, for Central Eastern European Countries. The JRC helped specifically with the nuclear safety programmes in these regions, in areas such as operational safety, waste management, technical support and results dissemination.

Community Acquis

Launched in 1999, the JRC’s Enlargement Programme was designed to promote collaboration with Candidate Countries’ scientists, to help them integrate into the European Research Area and take up the Community Acquis. The programme includes workshops, training courses and temporary stays for visiting scientists.

Other options

With growing concern over animal welfare and a need to improve the accuracy of chemical testing, in 1991 the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM) was set up.

ECVAM, part of today’s Institute for Health and Consumer Protection (IHCP), is responsible for validating methods to reduce, refine and replace animal testing.

Seeing green

In 1992, a project called EcoCentre was set in motion by the JRC. It was designed to demonstrate the feasibility of improving the environmental impact of an ageing research infrastructure; for example, by reducing site energy consumption through both retrofitting and new, low-energy construction.

Safe and secure structures

With the creation of the European Laboratory for Structural Assessment (ELSA) in the early nineties, the JRC started research in the field of earthquake and structural engineering. ELSA has since developed to become the worldwide leader in pseudo-dynamic testing with substructuring for earthquake simulation.

Measuring microwaves

Target calibration in the EMSL microwave laboratory

Target calibration in the EMSL microwave laboratory

In 1992, the European Microwave Signature Laboratory (EMSL) was inaugurated in Ispra. Specialising in measurement capabilities in the field of microwave remote sensing, the laboratory has been successfully used in other research fields such as antenna measurements, nondestructive testing, and detection of buried objects, such as landmines.


Good guidance

A Board of Governors for the JRC was founded in order to involve Member States in strategic decisions. Comprising top representatives from EU Member States, Candidate and Associate Countries, the Board advises on strategy, work programmes, budget and high-level appointments.